NEGOTIATING JERUSALEM

Negotiating Jerusalem

 

Philosophy and Public Policy, Fall 1997

 

Of all the final-status issues to be dealt with by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, there is none as difficult as Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the future capital of the Palestinian state; the Israelis maintain that they alone will remain sovereign over the city. Moreover, these do not appear to be mere negotiating positions. The claims asserted by the PLO and the government of Israel are expressions of the attachments that are rooted in the aspirations, identifications, and self-understandings of the two peoples.

            For Jews, having Jerusalem is symbolic of the entire project of “return.” When ancient Israel was conquered by the Babylonians, it was from Jerusalem that the Israelites were taken into captivity. When they came back from exile in 538 BCE, their paramount task was to rebuild the Temple that Solomon has built. When the Israelites revolted against the Romans in the first century CE, it was Jerusalem that was the fortress of resistance. And when the Romans finally defeated them, the symbol of defeat was again the destruction of the Temple. Following the second revolt, the city itself was rebuilt and renamed as a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, from which the Jews were barred. And when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, Christian hostility toward Judaism was expressed through a strict adherence to the ban forbidding Jews to live in Jerusalem. The return to Jerusalem has been throughout the centuries the central symbol of the attainment of Jewish self-determination. It is toward Jerusalem that religious Jews pray. It is Jerusalem that is mentioned three times a day in those prayers, and it is with the words “Next year in Jerusalem” that Jews the world over have concluded that Passover seder.

            To Muslims, however, Jerusalem is an Islamic city. For most of the history of Islam, Jerusalem has had a predominantly Muslim population, and it has been under Islamic rule for most of the thirteen centuries since the Christian Patriarch surrendered the city to the Caliph Umar in 638 CE. The primary exceptions were the twelfth century, during the ninety years of Crusader rule, and the twentieth century, especially the post-1967 period. It is to Jerusalem that Mohammed is said to have been transported, and from the rock beneath the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount that he is said to have ascended to Heaven to receive his final revelation. While less significant than Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem surely is the most important city for the Palestinians, be they Muslim or Christian. Within it live 1 in 8 Palestinians in the West Bank. Geographically central, Jerusalem is the heart of their educational, religious and cultural life.

            Whose Jerusalem is it rightfully? This is an area of moral indeterminacy. Even if there were agreement on all the facts (itself highly unlikely), there are no widely shared moral principles which would be sufficient to assess the relative merit of the two claims.

            Religious Jews believe in a covenant by which the land was given to Abraham’s descendents through Isaac. What weight are we to grant these beliefs? Even is one dismissed as religious mythology any notion of god-giveness with respect to the land, the fact remains that for thousands of years people have understood their relation to the land in these terms. Muslims, on the other hand, dispute the centrality of the Abraham-Isaac relationship and instead emphasize Abraham’s relationship to his first son, Ishmael, from whom they see themselves as descended. Moreover, Palestinians also claim to be descended from the Jebusites, the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Jerusalem. How are we to judge between them?

            Religions aside, what importance do we assign to the sheer fact of possession of the land and to issues of dispossession? Does it matter who possessed the land first? How does the passage of time strengthen or erode a people’s claims to ownership? How much significance do we give to the dominant Muslim presence in Jerusalem for most of the last 1,200 years, or to the existence of a Jewish majority within the Old City for a significant part of the last century, or to that of a Muslim majority within the Old City for the last fifty years? The unanswerable questions go on and on.

 

 

Moral Recognitions as Motivation

 

Given that the achievement of moral agreement is a hopeless question, there is a general tendency among those working for peace to put aside moral issues and to focus instead on arguments of national interest for both Israelis and Palestinians, hoping to convince both sides that it is in their interest to compromise. Thus, the Israeli peace movement almost always couches its arguments in terms of Israel’s interest in achieving peace and security. Only rarely does it raise the issue of Palestinian rights. And if anything, this same pattern is more dominant among Palestinian moderates,

            However, those seeking to promote a willingness to compromise mar have reached exactly the wrong conclusions from the futility of efforts to assess who has the stronger claim to Jerusalem. The complexity of the issues, and the absence of settled principles for resolving it, actually point to one conclusion that could emerge as a widely help proposition for both Israelis and Palestinians: namely, that the other side has some legitimate rights with regard to the city.

            Once said, of course, this proposition appears obviously true to most outside observers, but of little import. First, it is believed that among those actually engaged in the conflict, only the peaceniks would agree that the other side has any rights to Jerusalem. Second, ti is widely doubted that such recognition carries with it any substantial motivation to compromise. An individual’s intellectual recognition of the rights of another people tends to be viewed as an epiphenomenon when it conflicts with the rights and interests of his own people.

            Yet recent studies of Israelis and Palestinians suggest that this “realist” vision is wrong on both counts. For instance, 39 percent of Israelis Jews answered affirmatively when asked, “In your opinion, do the Palestinians have any sort of legitimate rights, with regard to Jerusalem?” Among those who identify with the Labor Party, the figure rises to 55 percent. Some recognition of Palestinian rights with regard to Jerusalem was also affirmed by 27 percent of those who belong to the Likud Party, and by more than 20 percent of those who identify with the far0right parties. Among those Israelis Jews who believe that Palestinians have some rights to Jerusalem, 41 percent belong to the right of far-right parties. So it is not the case that only peaceniks can see some validity in the claims of the other side.

            A stranger to Israeli politics might draw a discouraging lesson from these findings. Since many Israelis Jews who acknowledge some legitimate Palestinians rights with regard to Jerusalem nonetheless vote for Likud, one might conclude that moral recognition does but affect willingness to compromise. But this would be a mistake. People identify with Israeli political parties from many reasons, some having little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, supporters of Likud are not necessarily averse to compromise. For instance, 35 percent are willing to seriously consider Palestinian sovereignty over peripheral areas of Jerusalem such as Um Tuba and Sur Bahir, and 26 percent would seriously consider joint administration of the Old City, provided Israel did not yield its claim to sovereignty.

            To ascertain the motivational force of believing that Palestinians have some legitimate rights with regard to Jerusalem, one recent study divided Israeli Jews into four groups, depending on their views as to a) whether Palestinians have any legitimate rights with regard to Jerusalem and b) whether a peace agreement with the Palestinians will lead to long-term peace. (See the table at end.) The first group takes a positive view of both questions; the fourth group takes a negative view of both questions. As one might expect, the first group is very open to various compromise proposals, while the fourth group is strongly opposed to compromise. Our interest lies mainly in the two other groups: those who believe that Palestinians have rights but don’t believe real peace is possible even if a peace treaty is signed, and those who believe real peace is possible but don’t believe Palestinians have any legitimate rights with regard to Jerusalem.

            If it were true, as realists assert, that recognition of another people’s rights is little more than a motivational epiphenomenon, then one would expects to find far greater willingness to compromise on Jerusalem among those in the second groups than among those in the third group. Belief in the prospects for long-term peace would be a much more powerful motive for compromise than an acknowledgment of some legitimacy in the other side’s claims. But in fact, it turns out that for these two groups, the willingness to compromise is virtually identical, across a wide variety of compromise proposals. Just as important, holding one of the other belief appears to make Israeli Jews in these groups significantly more open to compromise than those who hold neither belief. These data suggest that recognition of the other side’s legitimate rights is a powerful motivational factor, quite possibly equal in strength to believing that achieving a peace treaty with the Palestinians will really lead to a long-term peace.

            Does the realist view fare any better when Palestinian opinions are surveyed? According to one recent study, 70 percent of Palestinians support genuine peace with Israel, provided that there is a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The motivations here are no doubt quote diverse—the realization that Israel is here to stay, the desire to see a Palestinian state come into existence, the desire to live normal lives. Recognition of Jewish rights is clearly not the dominant factor. Indeed, only a minority of this group (21 percent) recognizes some Jewish rights with respect to Jerusalem.

            Yet it turns out that recognition of these rights does make some people more inclined to compromise on Jerusalem. For example, among Palestinians who favor peace with Israel, proposals for divided sovereignty over the Old City, or joint sovereignty over the entire city, receive twice as much support from those who recognize some Jewish rights than from those who do not. However, less forthcoming proposals, such as giving Palestinians autonomy but not sovereignty over their neighborhoods, were thoroughly rejected by both groups.

            One must be way about reading too much into these data, but they do point to very interesting possibilities. First, regardless of whether or not people are opposed to compromise, it may be possible to get them to see that the other side does have some legitimate rights. Though not every Israeli or Palestinian will be brought to this point of view, an expanded moral discourse might well increase well increase the number who grant the other side some legitimacy.

            Second, the data suggest that if people arrive at such a recognition, it may indeed affect their willingness to compromise. Thus, in the effort to promote compromise on Jerusalem, it may make sense to engage right-wing Israelis in serious discourse with respect to Palestinians rights, and it may make sense to seriously engage the Palestinians mainstream in a parallel discourse with respect to Jewish rights.

 

 

What is Jerusalem?

 

Just as it may be worthwhile to draw people into the moral complexity of the question “Whose Jerusalem is it rightfully?” so too it may be worthwhile to wrestle with a second question: “What is Jerusalem?” To see why, one must understand a bit about the geography of the city.

            For the moment, I mean by “Jerusalem” that territory lying within the municipal boundaries set by the Israeli government. Jerusalem consists of two parts, East and West. This distinction dates from the end of the 1948-49 Israeli war of independence, when the armistice line—known as the green line—divided the city into two sections. In the eastern half was included the Old City—the one square kilometer of walled city that included the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. During the 1948-67 period, Israel was cut off from East Jerusalem; the city was physically divided by barricades and barbed wire. Then, during the Six-Day Way of 1967, Israeli forces “reunified” the city. Not only did they conquer East Jerusalem; they also routed the Jordanians and captured all of the West Bank. Within weeks of the reunification, Israel went on to expand Jerusalem. In particular, it redrew the municipal boundaries to include within the city a large tract of land from the West Bank that had surrounded East Jerusalem. This “expanded East Jerusalem” was roughly ten times the size of what might be termed “Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem.” In drawing the new boundaries, the Israeli government sought to include as much land as possible, but as few Palestinians as possible. Thus the boundary lines were highly gerrymandered, weaving in, around, and sometimes through numerous Palestinian villages which lay near Jerusalem. These territories of expanded East Jerusalem are the only parts of the West Bank that the government has actually incorporated into Israel. And it is within this area that Israel launched a massive series of housing projects, creating large Jewish hilltop neighborhoods, referred to as “settlement” by the Palestinians.

            Within East Jerusalem as a whole there are roughly equal numbers of Israelis and Palestinians. But almost all of the Israelis in East Jerusalem live within the areas added to the city in 1967; about half of the total 172,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem also live within these areas. Within the Old City the population is approximately 90 Palestinian, and the urbanized areas of what had been Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem (but not including the Old City) are almost entirely Palestinian.

            In 1993 Israel again changed the boundaries, this time expanding West Jerusalem, and there are bills pending in the Knesset to expand East Jerusalem again as well, to include the large West Bank settlements of Maale Adumin and Givat Zev, which lie a few kilometers outside the present boundaries.

            In all this, what is Jerusalem? Meron Bensenisti, an Israeli expert on the city who was once deputy mayor of Jerusalem, described the halachic perspective (that is, the perspective of Jewish religious law) as follows:

 

Modern-day halacha follows in the wake of the administrative decisions and extends the city’s sanctity accordingly. All of the territory within its municipal boundaries is regarded as “the Holy City” by the religious establishment.

 

If this if the halachic point of view, it seems to have it secular analogue in the government’s ability to extend the symbolic power of “Jerusalem” to any area that by administrative fiat gets called “Jerusalem.” Thus, for instance, the recent Israeli decision to build a new Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa is presented by the government as a matter or principle: Israel’s right to build anywhere within its capital, Jerusalem. Yet Har Homa had never been “inside” Jerusalem until it was scooped up by the 1967 expansion. (In fact, it is an isolated rural hill on the outskirts of Bethlehem.) Even Palestinians, it often appears, construe as “Jerusalem” any area that Israeli authorities so identify. Thus the planned construction at Har Homa is characterized by the Palestinian leadership as the “Judaization of Jerusalem.”

            Does any of this make sense? How much a rational Israeli or Palestinian reflecting on his or her own attachment to Jerusalem determine the geographic content of that commitment?

            Until the latter part of the nineteenth century, Jerusalem did not extend beyond the Old City. During almost all those centuries of Jewish diaspora in which there was prayer to and about Jerusalem, the city constituted an area comprising only 1 percent of what is presently Jerusalem. By what process can the object of attachment be so thoroughly transformed and yet retain its power to inspire loyalty and territorial claims?

            Indeed, ancient Jerusalem cannot even be identified with the walled city. The current walls were built by the Ottoman rulers in the sixteenth century. The ancient city of David—the Jerusalem that the Bible tells us was conquered by King David from the Jebusites—was not the Old City; it was a small area less than a quarter the size of the Old City. Today, this area, mostly ignored, lies just south of the walled city. Even the Western Wall, for Jews the most revered site in Jerusalem, is often misunderstood. It was not a wall of the ancient Jewish Temple, but rather a retaining wall for the plateau on which the Temple stood. But archeologists tell us that even this is not quite correct, because at the time of the ancient Temple, the plateau was much smaller than it is now. The Western Wall is a retaining wall for the plateau as it was expanded by King Herod in the first century BCE.

            Even if one cares about Jerusalem, cares passionately, about exactly what should one care? In what should one reasonably invest one’s concern? Assuming that Benvenisti is correct about halacha, can a rational person’s emotional energies flow along the prescribed path—if the Knesset says that a settlement of 25,00 people a mile from Jerusalem is suddenly in the city, it is rational that one’s feelings about that settlement suddenly change?

            The more one wonders “What is Jerusalem?” the more perplexing it all becomes. Why, for instance, should Palestinians who deny that Israel has any rightful authority vis-à-vis Jerusalem or the West Bank experience “as Jerusalem” some village area in the West Bank, simply because the day before, an Israeli administrative authority defined it as past of Jerusalem? We can understand why the political leadership on both sides might want to manipulate people’s feelings about what is and is not Jerusalem. But, free from manipulation, what is Jerusalem, really?

            Here again we find indeterminacy. One can know the facts, but the facts don’t themselves imply that something is or is not Jerusalem. To view something as Jerusalem is to have made a decision, or to have adopted a stance or a point of view. And such a decision can be reversed, when there are good reasons to do so.

 

 

Redefining Jerusalem

 

The empirical research suggests that official boundaries, halachic positions, and political rhetoric aside, we should go slowly in making nay assumptions with respect to how ordinary Israelis or Palestinians define Jerusalem. It turns out that there is actually great diversity within each national community in the extent to which different parts of what is administratively defined as Jerusalem by Israel are invested with the symbolic power of Jerusalem. And there is considerable willingness, if there are good reasons, to redefine Jerusalem. For example, when Israeli Jews were asked,

 

“In order to insure a Jewish majority [in Jerusalem] would you support or object to redefining the city limits so that Arab settlements and villages which are now within the borders of Jerusalem (such as Shuafat, Um Tuba, Sur Bahir) will be outside the city?”

 

59 percent supported and 41 percent opposed this redefinition of the boundaries. Moreover, of the 41 percent opposed, only 7 percent were strongly opposed. Presumably, anyone who views the boundaries of the city as a sacred line would have been very opposed. Thus, we can conclude that almost no Israeli Jews view the boundaries in this way. For purposes deemed legitimate, what is Jerusalem, especially what is East Jerusalem, can be expanded or diminished. Within limits, boundaries are a policy instrument.

            When Palestinians were asked if they considered as part of Jerusalem those areas that were defined as Jerusalem for the first time when Israel expanded the boundaries in 1967, roughly 40 percent said they did not and 60 percent said that they did. The result varies, however, depending on whether the question emphasizes that Israel made this specification. When simply asked about the areas by name, more people view them as part of Jerusalem. What this suggests is that calling attention to the fact that common definitions of Jerusalem implicitly accept Israel as the party who defines “Jerusalem” prompts Palestinians to assert their own definitions.

            On both sides, moreover, there are major differences in the extent to which people consider various parts of the city “important as part of Jerusalem.” Within each national community, one finds consensus around certain areas—for instance, around the Western Wall for Israeli Jews, and around the Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) for Palestinians. But then, within each national community, this consensus breaks down. Only about a third of Israeli Jews view Palestinian residential areas anywhere in the city, including those within the Old City, as “very important as Jerusalem.” And only about a quarter of Palestinians view Jewish residential areas within any part of the city as “very important as Jerusalem.” It turns out that once one disaggregates the Old City, only two areas in all of Jerusalem stand out as of great importance to most Palestinians and to most Israelis “as part of Jerusalem”: the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives.

            All of this suggests that exploring what actual people experience as Jerusalem holds much promise as a key to resolve the conflict. Broadly speaking, it is possibly for Israeli Jews to experience “Yerushalayim” as consisting of the Old City plus Jewish residential and commercial areas in East and West Jerusalem, and it is possible for Palestinians to experience “Al-Quds” as consisting of the Old City plus Palestinians residential and commercial areas in East Jerusalem.

            When we bring together the “What is Jerusalem?” question with the “Whose is it?” question, what emerges is a path towards conflict resolution. Thus path leads, as it were, to two overlapping Jerusalems that have only the Old City and the Mount of Olives in common and over which there would be some form of joint administration. Were national referenda held on this approach today, it would attract greater support than most believe. Even so, the extent and intensity of popular opposition would preclude an agreement. It is reasonable to believe, however, that is there emerged on both sides a political leadership that sought to achieve an agreement on Jerusalem, and if there were a much fuller discourse about the moral complexity of the Jerusalem question, what is not at the moment politically viable could over time emerge as the basis for lasting peace.

 

 

 

 

In relation to beliefs about whether a peace agreement with the Palestinians will lead to true long-term peace, and whether the Palestinians have any legitimate rights in regard to Jerusalem, the percentage and Israeli Jews who seriously consider and who flatly reject each proposal:

 

                                                                            Groups                                                                          National

                                                                                                                                 I                    II                                                      III                 IV                                                      Average

 

Will a peace agreement lead to peace?

 

Yes

Yes

No

No

 

Do Palestinians have any sort of legitimate rights with regard to Jerusalem?

 

Yes

No

Yes

No

 

  1. Substantial Support

Palestinian sovereignty over Arab villages in East Jerusalem

Seriously Consider

79

47

52

27

45

Flatly Reject

10

27

30

52

36

  1. Moderate Support

Autonomy for Arab areas in East Jerusalem

Seriously Consider

55

41

41

23

35

Flatly Reject

22

38

36

56

44

Arab areas in East Jerusalem outside Old City to Palestinian sovereignty

Seriously Consider

53

37

39

19

34

Flatly Reject

16

38

38

59

44

Joint administration of Old City without yielding on sovereignty

Seriously Consider

54

41

40

20

34

Flatly Reject

22

33

36

55

41

Temple Mount under Wakf (Islamic Trust) as now

Seriously Consider

56

34

34

18

31

Flatly Reject

23

44

40

62

48

  1. Minimal Support

Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in Old City

Seriously Consider

51

24

22

10

23

Flatly Reject

24

52

45

70

55

Palestinians sovereignty over Temple Mount, Israeli over Western Wall

Seriously Consider

46

21

25

7

20

Flatly Reject

33

56

55

71

58

Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem, but Jewish neighborhoods given special status under Israeli control

Seriously Consider

38

23

20

9

19

Flatly Reject

35

59

65

73

62

Old City internationalized under UN

Seriously Consider

34

26

18

10

18

Flatly Reject

41

58

68

74

64

Percentage of total population

 

21

12

18

49

100

 

Source: Jerome M. Segal, “Is Jerusalem Negotiable?” Center for International and Security Studies, University of Maryland, 1997.

 

 

The Meaning of the PNC in Algiers

 

Tikkun, January/February 1989

 

There are two perspectives from which to view what happened at the nineteenth meeting of the Palestine National Council (PNC), held in Algiers in November 1988. The meeting can be viewed from the broad historical perspective of Palestinian nationalism, and it can be viewed from the short-term political perspective of what was needed for an imme­diate breakthrough toward peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

            These two perspectives coincide with the two very different documents that emerged from the meetings­—the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and the political resolutions of the nineteenth PNC. I will argue:

 

  • From the historical perspective, the meetings were revolutionary, giving a new definition to Palestinian nationalism.
  • From the political perspective, the meetings were positive but somewhat disappointing, given the high expectations that some people had.
  • The compromises on the political level were what made the breakthroughs possible on the historical level.
  • The historical breakthroughs set the stage for further advances on the political level in the near future.

 

 

Historical Dimension

 

On November 15, 1988, at roughly 1:45 in the morning, the State of Palestine was proclaimed. The two-state solution, that bit of common sense endorsed by the non-Arab world in 1947, was not only being affirmed; it was being enacted.

            From the Palestinian point of view, there is now a Palestinian state, and before too long most of the nations of the world will share that perspective. If there is to be peace in the Middle East, this peace will have to be made between the two states. Any other option implies the destruction of one state or the other.

            What the Palestinians did in Algiers was to extend to the diplomatic level exactly what they had been doing for the eleven months of the intifada. The intifada is the process of Palestinian empowerment; it is the exercise of their self-determination, whether Israeli authorities like it or not. Specifically, the intifada is the process through which the Palestinian state was created. What occurred in Algiers was the formalization of that process.

            This point can best be understood if we reflect on the struggle over who sets commercial regulations-the war of the shops. Time and again Israeli soldiers have dipped locks and forced stores to be reopened, and time and again the Palestinians have obeyed the regulations set by the underground command. Essentially, they have told the Israelis: “You do not govern the territories. We have transferred the role of governance to new authori­ties.” To do this is essentially to create a new state.

            November 15, 1988 will be remembered in history for a second event in addition to the creation of the State of Palestine. It is the date on which the Palestinian people reversed a position that they had held for one hundred years. In Algiers the Palestinian people, in essence, redefined the cause of Palestinian nationalism. In the post-independence world, a Palestinian triumph does not require the destruction of the Jewish state.

            The vehicle for this change is the Palestinian Declara­tion of Independence. In formal terms this document is different from the political resolutions. The political resolutions are the decisions of the nineteenth PNC. As such, they are the current, but transitory, articulation of the PLO’s stand on a series of key issues. They replace somewhat similar resolutions passed by the eighteenth PNC in 1987. And they themselves will be modified either by a twentieth PNC or by policies articulated by the government of the State of Palestine when it is formed.

            The Declaration of Independence, on the other hand, is the first fundamental document to be adopted by the Palestinian nationalist movement since the Palestinian Covenant. Unlike the Covenant, however, it cannot be amended. A declaration of independence is forever.

            In the middle of the Declaration there is the procla­mation itself: “The Palestine National Council, in the name of God, and in the name of the Palestine Arab people, hereby proclaims the establishment of the State of Palestine….” This is the first and last mention of the Palestine National Council in the Declaration. From this point on, the Declaration reads: “The State of Palestine declares,” “The State of Palestine affairs,” “The State of Palestine proclaims.” Thus the Declaration is the transitional vehicle through which an authoritative agent of the Palestinian national cause has been brought into being: the State of Palestine.

            The exact relationship between the PLO and the State of Palestine remains to be defined. Full authority for the state will not be achieved until Israeli troops withdraw. But the stage has been set for a new era. The Declaration of Independence stands in relation to the State of Palestine as the Covenant stands in relation to the PLO.

            The Covenant, which has not been amended since 1968 and which has been eroded and contradicted by successive PNC political resolutions, represented one definition of Palestinian nationalism. It was grounded in the claim that there was no Jewish right to a state in Palestine. It was dedicated to the liberation of the whole of Palestine. And it proclaimed that armed struggle was the only way to liberate Palestine.

            The PNC neither amended nor discarded the covenant. It chose to deal with it by sweeping it under the carpet, by creating· a state based on the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration makes no mention what­soever of the Covenant. It represents a new beginning. The Declaration makes no mention of liberating the whole of Palestine. And it makes no mention of armed struggle.

            Those people who doubt the change that the PLO has undergone ought to dust off the Covenant and place it side by side with the Declaration. And they should read it not merely for substance, but for voice and attitude as well.

            The Declaration has some strong substantive points that should be noted. These points are not airtight. They were not the result of negotiations. They were not scrutinized and made rigorous by the kind of give and take that can occur only at the negotiating table. Rather, they are a broad effort to communicate intentions and attitude.

 

 

On the Partition Resolution (181)

 

In 1947 the Arab nations walked out of the UN General Assembly when the partition resolution was passed. The PLO Covenant explicitly states that the partition resolution is null and void. In Algiers this position was reversed. The Declaration reads:

 

Despite the historical injustice inflicted on the Palestinian Arab people resulting in their disper­sion and depriving them of their right to self· determination, following upon UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947), which partitioned Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish, yet it is this Resolution that still provides those conditions of international legitimacy that ensure the right of the Palestinian Arab people to sovereignty and national independence.

           

            The paragraph falls short of explicitly stating that under international law Israel has a right to exist. But it is a historical reversal of the Palestinian position on Resolution 181 (which was also cited in the Israeli Declaration of Independence).

            There are two things of special significance in this paragraph. First, the Declaration notes that Resolution 181 provided for a Jewish state. It is surprising that it would specifically call attention to the fact that 181 not only provided for Israel’s existence, but its existence as a Jewish state. This point is immediately followed by the statement that the resolution “still provides” a basis in international legitimacy (international law) for the Palestinian state that was never created. To make this point is to say that the resolution was and remains international law.

            Thus while the Palestinians do not explicitly draw the conclusion that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state under international law, they support, in their declaration, the two premises from which such a conclusion can be drawn: (1) Resolution 181 was and is valid international law; and (2) Resolution 181 provides for a Jewish state.

            In short, the Palestinians have set the stage for the State of Palestine to offer an exchange of ambassadors with Israel, something that was unthinkable under the terms of the Covenant.

 

 

On Peace, Armed Struggle, and Terrorism

 

As noted above, the Declaration says nothing about armed struggle. In fact, it goes out of its way to extend the olive branch with both hands. The Declaration reads: “The State of Palestine...further announces itself to be a peace-loving State, in adherence to the principles of peaceful co-existence. It will join with all states and peoples in order to assure a permanent peace based upon justice...” The idea of “peaceful co-existence” steers the new state toward adopting a peace treaty with Israel. Similarly, the phrase “permanent peace” is the antithesis of the so-called doctrine of stages, which viewed any settlement with Israel as merely a stepping-stone from which to continue the struggle.

            The Declaration has this to say on violence and terrorism:

 

The State of Palestine herewith declares that it believes in the settlement of regional and inter­national disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with the UN Charter and resolutions. Without prejudice to its natural right to defend its territorial integrity and independence, it therefore rejects the threat or use of force, violence and terrorism against its territorial integrity, or political independence, as it also rejects their use against the territorial integrity of other states [emphasis added].

 

 

On Boundaries

 

The Declaration does not define the borders of the State of Palestine. In this sense it is similar to the Israeli Declaration of Independence. When the Pales­tinian Declaration affirms the partition resolution, it says that it “still provides those conditions of inter­national legitimacy that ensure the right of the Palestinian Arab people to sovereignty and national independence.” The Declaration is deliberately silent as to whether the partition resolution still provides the right to the terri­tory that the Palestinian people were offered in 1947. Thus, it is consistent with public statements by Abu Iyad, the second most powerful member of Fatah (behind Arafat), to the effect that the Palestinians would settle for a state defined by the pre-1967 borders (that is, the West Bank and Gaza).

            This position is reinforced by the PNC resolution on 242, which, despite its inadequacies, commits the PLO to negotiations based on peace in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from territories gained in the 1967 war (as opposed to those gained in the 1948 war).

            Finally, for the lawyers, there is one other pregnant phrase. The new state calls upon the United Nations to “help it terminate Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.” Scholars of Resolution 242 may remember all the ink that has been spilled over whether 242 requires Israel to withdraw from “territories occupied” in 1967 or from “the territories” occupied in 1967-the difference being between some or all. Given this history, it is quite remarkable that the Palestinian Declaration should refer to ending Israel’s occupation of “the” Palestinian territories-the implication being that the West Bank and Gaza are” the Palestinian territories.” And of course, the sentence does use the I-word, refer­ring to “Israel’s” occupation of Palestinian territory rather than to the occupation by the “Zionist entity”—a phrase that does not appear at any point. Thus, in spirit’ and substance, the State of Palestine rests upon a new definition of the Palestinian national cause.

 

 

The Political Perspective

 

Following the Israeli elections, we are in a uniquely dangerous situation in the Middle East. Prime Minister Shamir has no intention whatsoever of exchanging land for peace. He is dedicated to the destruction of the State of Palestine-an entity that he will neither recog­nize nor concede has a right to exist. His “peace program” essentially is to crush the intifad4. The odds are very high that we will soon see an escalation of Israeli violence, and that at some point Palestinian discipline will break down. The rule against using guns and knives on Israeli settlers and soldiers will give way to a new sentiment: “If I am going to die, I will take some of them with me.”

            Once Palestinian teenagers take this turn, there will be a spiral of violence that will not be controllable. As Israeli deaths start to mount, the stage will be set for internal transfer and mass expulsion. This process will involve massacre and ultimately renewed warfare between Israel and the Arab states.

            The political dimension of the PNC can be defined in terms of the actions needed in the short run to help prevent events from flowing in this direction. In order to stop this flow we must achieve a breakthrough in U.S.-PLO relations, leading to the convening of an international conference and thus to the involvement of all parties in the transforming process of face-to-face negotiations.

            The U.S. government knows that it must move in this direction. Nevertheless, it considers itself stuck with its various “preconditions” for dealing with the PLO. The entire strategy of preconditions has been a major error in U.S. policy. Henry Kissinger led us into this quagmire on the urging of the Israelis, whose objective was to keep the PLO, and thus the Palestinians, out of the negotiation process. Instead they relied on the Jordanian option.

            Today the Jordanian option is dead. Peace requires a Palestinian option. To understand the foolishness of the very notion of preconditions, we might try to apply the idea to any other conflict. Consider the Iran-Iraq war. Is it even imaginable that any sane person would have said that before the U.S. should attempt to mediate a cease-fire, the Iraqis had to renounce the use of chemical weapons or admit that they started the conflict? With a million dead, and further horror on the horizon, the imperative was a cease-fire and a process leading toward some form of resolution. Only those with their heads in the sand fail to understand that the stakes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are equally high.

 

 

The PNC

 

Alas, our political leadership is simply irresponsible. The State Department should admit that the policy of preconditons was an error and open a dialogue with the PLO. State Department spokesmen say that they are bound by the commitment to Israel (though technically this extends only to negotiations and recognition, not to dialogue and contact), but the basic issue is domestic politics. The State Department simply is not prepared to engage in an all-out fight with the organized Jewish community and its supporters in Congress.

            Thus, the U.S. sticks to its conditions, and it is up to the PLO to overcome the inadequacies of leadership in Washington and Jerusalem by meeting the American conditions. It is this fact that constitutes the political dimension of the PNC meeting.

            Over the last several months I have been engaged in moderately intensive efforts .to try to find acceptable formulas to deal with each of the conditions, and I have met top PLO officials on several occasions.

            Inside the PLO I focused on the Fatah faction meeting with Arafat and other leaders. On each of the three conditions-242 and 338, Israel’s right to exist, and the renunciation of terrorism—I found reason to believe that Fatah was prepared to take truly decisive steps. The PNC, however, is not Fatah. And in the end, what the PNC did with respect to each of the conditions was not as powerful as it might have done. In each area the PNC made progress, and if time were abundant we could be quite optimistic. Unfortunately, however, time 15 running out.

 

 

On 242 and 338

 

During the PNC meeting, three positions were articu­lated with respect to 242 and 338. The first was held by George Habash, who objected to any positive reference to 242. Habash wanted an international conference based on “international legitimacy.” 

            The second position was that of came from Nayef Hawatmeh of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He wanted a conference based on “all United Nations resolutions including 242 and 338.” His position was that since many of these resolutions are positive from the perspective of the PLO, the PNC should draw on the strength of these resolutions. From the Jewish point of view, the mere existence of the “Zionism is racism” resolution has always made this position unacceptable.

            The third position, which was Arafat’s, called for a conference based on 242, 338, and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, the first of which is the right to self-determination. The U.S. has already come very close to Arafat’s position. We recognize that 242 and 338 are not a sufficient basis since they do not address Palestinian rights. We have offered the phrase “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” and recently Secretary of State Shultz spoke of the “political rights” of the Palestinians.

            The U.S. refuses to accept “self-determination” on the grounds that it is a code word for a Palestinian state, and support for a Palestinian state would prejudge the outcome of the negotiations. Given that the Palestinians have spoken of a confederation with Jordan, and that some Israelis (Moshe Amirav, for example) are talking of a three-way confederation of Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, this reasoning is not compelling. Further, we could simply say that we accept self-determination in principle and that the challenge of the negotiations is to see if a way can be found to implement it in ways consistent with Israel’s security. We would not be pre· judging the outcome, merely stating the challenge.

            Alas, our State Department.

            In the end, the PNC threw in the kitchen sink. The final PNC resolution on 242 and 338 affirmed the two UN resolutions by name as part of the basis for the international conference, but the PNC also insisted that the basis include self· determination and “the UN resolutions relevant to the Palestinian question.” This last phrase is of course different from “all UN resolu­tions” and does permit the U.S. to say that the PNC resolution excludes “Zionism is racism,” but politically it is dead meat.

 

 

Israel’s Right to Exist

 

Prior to the PNC, some top Fatah leaders were prepared to accept a simple statement affirming Resolu­tion 181 and saying that it provides a basis in international law for the existence of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. The closest the PNC came to adopting this position was in the section of the Declaration of Independence discussed above.

 

 

On Terrorism

 

Here, too, Fatah leaders ‘were prepared to accept something better than what emerged. Specifically, they were prepared to say that they opposed all attacks on ordinary civilians and that this opposition applied to all geographical regions. Again, unfortunately, the PNC did not adopt this position.

            The PNC dealt with terrorism in two places. First, in the Declaration of Independence, where there is a relatively dear rejection of terrorism but no effort to make dear that a specific category of acts (attacks on civilians, for example) is ruled out. And second, the PNC dealt with terrorism in a political resolution that does say that the PNC “reject[s] terrorism in all its forms” but then goes on to reaffirm the Cairo Declaration, which is unfortunately ambiguous.

            The most positive interpretation of the PNC’s overall position is that the PNC implicitly recognized Israel’s right to exist (in the Declaration) that it accepted 242 and 338 as part of the basis for negotiations and that in the Declaration it explicitly rejected terrorism.

            Palestinians in the PLO and in the new country of Palestine accurately argue that “if the United States government wanted to take all this as a ‘yes’ to the American conditions it could do so.” They are wrong, however to conclude—as some of them have—that the United States’ failure to take yes for an answer proves that nothing that they do will ever prove acceptable.

            Arafat may himself be disappointed with the political resolutions, though this is the first time that the PNC has ever affirmed 242 and 338. At the eighteenth PNC, the PLO said that it continued to reject 242 on the grounds that it was an insufficient basis for a peace settlement. The acceptance of 242 and 338 is not exactly an earth-shattering transformation. The PLO was right to say that 242 is an insufficient basis (at the eighteenth PNC) and they were right to say that it is appropriately part of the basis (at the nineteenth PNC). Indeed, the same point was being made in two different ways. The real problem was the way that the PNC characterized the other components of a basis for a settlement.

            If all this sounds like idiocy, it is no accident. But, to be fair to the PLO, we must remember who is the source of the idiocy. The laurels go to Dr. Kissinger.

            The PLO long ago bowed to the fact that the U.S. writes the rules. For some time the PLO has tried to play the 242 game, to find a way of adding something to 242 that would prove acceptable both to Washington and to the various factions under the PLO umbrella. It is a fool’s game-on all sides-and, despite heroic efforts by PLO lawyers as well as Arafat’s talents as a politician, Arafat had to be content to get the PNC simply to affirm 242 and 338.

            In the end, Arafat had to keep his eye on the ball. What was critical to him was to legitimize the Declaration of Independence, and this he did by being willing to compromise sufficiently to keep the more militant fac­tions (the DFLP and the PFLP) at the PNC. Now that they have participated, all significant Palestinian groups (with the exception of the Islamic fundamentalists) have committed themselves to a new institutional reality. They have a state, and they will soon have a government. Now even the hard-liners must be loyal opponents.

            And indeed, this is the role that they have accepted. George Habash participated in the vote and lost, but he stated that the PFLP would remain in the PLO, in the PNC, and in the Executive Committee. The fact that he did so reflects some possible moderation even among the extremists; more important, it reflects the power of statehood. Once the State of Palestine is created, no Palestinian political group can afford to be on the outside. Given the fact that there is some reality to the claims of democratic rule under the PLO umbrella, it is likely that power will continue to flow toward the more moderate majority.

            Furthermore, we must be careful when we make a pat dichotomy between moderate and radical Palestinians in the first place. It may well be that the difference between an Arafat who is willing to be explicit about living in peace with Israel and a Habash who refuses to give a direct answer to such questions lies more in how they experience the questions than in the substance of their opinions.

            Consider the following exchange, which occurred at Habash’s press conference following the PNC:

 

Segal: Dr. Habash, as you know, inside of Israel today there are many who claim that when the Palestinian leadership talks of peace, it is a trick. And you are cited as a Palestinian leader who under no circumstances would be willing to be faithful to a permanent treaty of peace with Israel.

              If the State of Israel were to offer you a Palestinian , state consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem the capital of both states, and a practical resolution of the right to return with the actual physi­cal return of some Palestinians and monetary com­pensation for the others would you be prepared to be faithful to a permanent treaty of peace with Israel?

 

Habash: I have a deep feeling of responsibility. I am now over sixty and I have children. And I know what life means and what it is to have children. And I well know that now in Palestine there are more than three million Jews and there are about two million Palestinians as well as another two to three million Palestinians outside Palestine.

              I say, come let us sit at the international peace conference so that we can discuss the subject of our children and your children from all aspects. I believe it is my full right to say my point of view on what solution will be good for future generations of Palestinians and for the Jews. I believe very very truly that we should think very seriously about the formation of a democratic state in which all can live in real peace and real brotherhood.

 

Following this exchange I pressed Habash for an answer, but he retorted that I have no right to ask such a question until the Israelis have recognized that the Palestinian people have a right to self-determination.

            The Israeli leadership, insofar as it is represented by Peres and Shamir, feels content to stand back, arms folded and pronounce its judgments on the shortcom­ings of PLO statements. Shamir sticks to his unique interpretation of 242 as having been satisfied when Israel withdrew from the Sinai, and therefore his stance on the PLO is predictable. A moderate PLO is his night­mare since it will weaken his grip on the West Bank.

            But Peres’s similar stance on the PLO is pure politics. Just as in the campaign, he takes everyone to his left for granted and plays for votes from the center. Such games would amount to little more than commonplace political maneuvering if the costs were not so high. Unfortunately, by retarding U.S. moves toward the PLO and by slowing down the pace of the PLO’s moderation process, Peres plays Russian roulette with Israel’s future.

            In the end, American Jews must finally decide to think and speak for themselves. It is absurd to look to Israel’s leadership for guidance, and it is equally absurd to allow AIPAC or the Conference of Presidents to present themselves as the spokespeople for the Jewish community. American policy is our responsibility.

            We must do more than place ads in the New York Times; we must do more than attend protests and demon­strations. We must create an alternative organized Jewish lobby in Washington and around the country. It is a disgrace that we have waited so long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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